Revisited Myth #132: A shot glass was originally a small glass filled with lead buckshot to use as a pen holder.

A tour guide wrote in to ask about the origins of “shot glass.” She’d heard it said that the phrase referred to its use as a pen holder. Filled with buckshot, it would keep the ink on the pen nib wet. I couldn’t determine it’s validity, so I threw it out to the universe, so to speak, and the universe answered. Sort of. 
     Blog reader Noah Briggs pointed out, “As for using them as pen holders, this is total baloney. After being used, quill and steel nib pens were wiped clean with a pen wiper and laid on a rack horizontally, because leaving them vertically in an ink pot (or the mythical “buckshot” in a shot glass) will bend and damage the tip, thus disrupting the flow of ink down the crevice and onto the tip and thus onto the paper. If you need to keep your ink wet, you dipped your pen into the inkwell. After all, that was its function.” 
     And thanks to Deborah Brower, a calligrapher, who adds, “Leaving your wet pen nib in a glass full of lead shot would be no different than leaving it on a table. The ink would dry on the nib and most likely ruin it. Even if it kept it moist, it would cause the nib to rust. You always clean you pen when you are done.”
     The statement is a myth. 
     So what is the origin of the term?  The word “shot” (according to Webster’s Merriam Dictionary) means “A small measure or serving (as one ounce) of undiluted liquor or other beverage [vodka shot], [a shot of expresso].” A glass for a shot of liquor, or shot glass, is merely that. 

3 Responses to Revisited Myth #132: A shot glass was originally a small glass filled with lead buckshot to use as a pen holder.

  1. Gregory Hubbard says:

    Hello. I’ve never heard that story before. Anyone who has used an ink pen knows how hard they are to clean when the ink dries. As with so many bits of false history, this story does not hold up to logic except that…

    working as an antique dealer, I have collected a number of ink wells with a compartment filled with lead shot. Very, very fine shot.


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